Unequal Exchange

wpc at cs.strath.ac.uk wpc at cs.strath.ac.uk
Tue Jan 24 03:24:03 MST 1995


>BUT if we are really to understand the most fundamental
>reason for the massive unequal exchange between North and
>South I think by analogy with Marx's approach to
>explaining the essentially *fair* process by which the
>worker is exploited in the sale of his/her labour
>power, we must look for the fair process by which
>unequal exchange occurs.

Marx's argument was that no systematic exploitation
can occur in the exchange process, which
is as he put it a 'veritable paradise of
Bentham and the rights of man'. A major
part of his polemical effort was directed against
those who thought that a reform of the conditions
of exchange could eliminate inequality.
It could not, because inequality did not
arise from exchange but within the production
process.

Of course goods exported to the developed
countries from the undeveloped contain more
labour than what goes the other way, but this
is a consequence of differences in
productivity of labour.

Before labours can be equated, their products
must be. There is scarcely anything appart
from a few minerals and primary products that
can be produced with less labour in a poor
country than in a rich country. Mexican peasant
farmers probably expend more than 10 times as
much labour to produce a ton of maize as does
a US farmer, but there can only be one
world price for maize, one which reveals that
most of the Mexicans labour is socially unnecessary.

No modification of commodity exchange is possible
that will get round this. Only the development
of labour productivity in the less developed
countries can effect a change.

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